Another mother poem: phantom baby
What's changed; what's stayed the same

New translation of Isaiah for Yom Kippur

This year my rabbi and I have been working together on revising the machzor (high holiday prayerbook) which we use for the Days of Awe. One of the projects on our list was to rework the translation of Yom Kippur's haftarah reading -- the reading from the prophets -- into a more contemporary vernacular.

The reading in question is Isaiah 57:14-58:14. Here's the JPS translation; if you want to see a bilingual version, try mechon-mamre: chapter 57 (start with verse 14) and continue with the first 14 verses of chapter 58. It's a gorgeous passage in any language, and I volunteered to spend some time on a new translation for our community.

I spent a couple of days poring over the text, reading it in Hebrew and in a couple of different English translations, most notably the JPS, linked above, and Rabbi Arthur Waskow's more interpretive Haftarah for the Fast of Yom Kippur. (I didn't consult Rabbi Shefa Gold's version until after I was done with my own, but her take on the text is very much her own, and is also worth reading.)

Here's what I came up with -- feel free to use this translation (with appropriate attribution) in your own services or in your own personal prayer if it's helpful to you! 

Haftarah for Yom Kippur

Build a highway!
Clear a road!
Remove all obstacles from My people's path!

So says the One who dwells on high,
whose name is holy:
"I dwell in high holiness --
but also with the oppressed
and those whose spirits are low.
I breathe new life into the low-spirited,
I restore the hearts of the oppressed.
I will not be angry forever.
No: I who make spirits flag
also create the breath of life."

"Your sinful greed made Me angry.
I lashed out; I hid My face.
The people are stubborn, they walk
on a path devised by their own hearts,
but I take note of them
and I will heal them.
I will guide them.
I will bring solace.
To mourners I bring comforting words:
peace, peace to the far and the near,"
says Adonai, "And I will heal them."

"The wicked are like a choppy sea,
never at rest,
whose waters are dark with mud.
There is no rest," says my God,
"for the wicked."

"Cry out, don't hold back.
Raise your voice like a shofar!
Remind My people they have transgressed;
remind the house of Jacob of their misdeeds.
Every day they seek me,
eager to learn My ways.
As if they were a righteous nation
which hasn't abandoned justice,
they ask Me for the right way.
They are eager to be near Me.
They ask, 'Why, when we fasted,
did You not see us?
When we starved our bodies, You paid no heed!'"

"Because on your fast day
you're thinking about your business!
You're oppressing your workers!
Your fast is marred with ego and argument.
You strike with a wicked fist.
Your fasting today
will not make your voice heard on high!"

"Is this the fast I want?
A day for people to starve their bodies?
Do I want you to bow your heads like the reeds,
to mortify your bodies
with coarse cloth and ashes?
You call that a fast, a day
when Adonai will look upon you with favor?"

This is the fast I want:
unlock the chains of wickedness,
untie the knots of servitude.
Let the oppressed go free,
their bonds broken.
Share your bread with the hungry,
and welcome the homeless into your home.
When you see the naked, clothe them.
All people are your kin:
do not ignore them."

"Then you will shine like the dawn,
and healing will rise up within you.
Your righteousness will vindicate you;
the presence of God will guard your safety.
Then, when you call, Adonai will answer.
When you cry out
God will say, 'Here I am.'"

"If you banish oppression,
scornful finger-pointing and hateful speech;
if you offer compassion to the hungry
and sustenance to the famished;
then your light will shine in the darkness,
your gloom will disappear like fog at noon.
Adonai will guide you.
God will slake your thirst when you are parched,
God will give you strength
deep in your bones.
You will be like a watered garden,
an unfailing spring.
You will rebuild yourselves,
you will restore foundations laid long ago.
You will be known
as one who restores what has fallen."

"If you refrain from trampling Shabbat,
from pursuing work on My holy day,
if you find the delight in Shabbat
and you honor sacred time,
if you honor Shabbat by pausing
from work, from bargaining,
from your weekday way of being --
then you can seek My favor.
I will lift you up.
I will let you enjoy
the heritage of your ancestors.
God has spoken."